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Currently, the Town is experiencing an influx of red drift algae. There are three main reasons for this increase: Extra nutrients in the water and the warm, sunny atmosphere create perfect growing conditions. Last year’s red tide events reduced the number of herbivore species of marine life present in our waters which eat the algae. The combination of these factors causes unrestrained growth of the algae and the area quickly becomes inundated, as we are experiencing.
When left on the beach, red drift algae does have its benefits. Many species of wildlife on our beaches feed on the algae by either directly eating the algae or by eating the insects and crabs that eat the algae. This includes several Florida state threatened bird species that live on the island such as snowy plovers, and least terns. The red drift algae also helps extend the shoreline naturally by trapping and holding onto sand that wave action kicks up. Algae is also an excellent fertilizer species and when trapped in the dune areas will help the dune vegetation stabilize and grow.
There are several species of red drift algae. The one currently washing up is called Hincksa Mitchelliae. This is a particularly stubborn red drift algae: The algae is very fibrous and fragile and attempts to rake it result in the algae mixing with the sand more than being picked up with the rake. It tends to just stay behind or more sand is being removed than the algae. Because it is so light and fragile, it more often stays in the wave action zone instead of being deposited on the beach, creating a dark section of water and constant low level deposits of algae wherever the water touches the beach. It will eventually dissipate on its own, but it takes a long time to do so.